»  The Virtual Attic — Places — Far Cotton

Far Cotton

The Cottons

The map here is a northward continuation of the one for Delapre Estate. To put it the other way, Delapre Estate is immediately off this map to the south (bottom). Northampton town proper is off this map to the north (top).

The east-west width of the map is about 1,400 yards, 0.8 miles. The north-south height is about 1,300 yards, 0.74 miles. The main contour line running east-west across the middle of the map marks 200 feet above sea level. There is about a 70-foot drop from the bottom edge of the map to the river, an overall gradient of about 1 in 43; though, as the contour lines show, most of the slope is in the south of the map. Near the river the land is pretty flat, and has sometimes flooded.

The river Nene flows west to east across the top of the map, with a branch of the Grand Union Canal running parallel to and then into it from the south.

The tributary that can just be seen flowing into the Nene from the north is the Brampton Nene. (Sometimes called the Naseby Nene or the Naseby water. The Nene isn't spoken of as a single distinct river prior to the confluences before and at Northampton.) It originates in the higher lands to the north, around West Haddon, Naseby, and Walgrave, then flows southwards into the town via Kingsthorpe Hollow.

Northampton town stands on the north bank of the Nene. In medieval times a person setting out from Northampton town to London, seventy miles to the south, would leave the town heading south on the London Road. He would quickly arrive at the river, and cross it on South Bridge.

In the low, marshy land just south of the bridge, on each side of the London Road, the traveler would have seen some scattered dwellings. These were collectively called "Coton," which is a corrupted plural, or possibly dative, of the Old English word cot, meaning "a small house." Old maps, like the 1826 one here, show "Cotton End" as designating the district just at the south of South Bridge, and usually to the east. Settlements further west on the south bank of the river are marked "West Cotton" on some maps.

The main points of interest here in medieval times would have been St. Leonard's lazar house (that is, a place where lepers lived) and its associated chapel to the west, and Delapré Abbey to the east. The lazar house disappeared in the 18th century; the driveway to Delapré Abbey can be seen heading off through the woods at the east edge of my map, just below the center.

In 1813-15, the engineer Benjamin Bevan of Leighton Buzzard cut a branch of the Grand Union Canal going from north of Blisworth (which is at 7 o'clock from the town on this map) to join the Nene just west of South Bridge. The canal had a towing path, shown on my map here, for the horses that pulled the "long boats" that plied the canals. The 1826 map I linked to above shows a string of buildings along a road nearby and parallel to the canal, corresponding to present-day Main Road. That string of buildings is named "Far Cotton" on the 1826 map, I suppose because it was farther from the London Road — or perhaps from Northampton town — than Cotton End. This seems to have been the beginning of modern Far Cotton.

With the Industrial Revolution and the coming of the railways, settlement spread southwards from the river, retaining the name "Far Cotton" as it grew. "Cotton End" is now just the district immediately south of the river around South Bridge.

There is a good history website for Far Cotton here, with some fine old photographs, and maps like the 1826 one I've been referencing.


Main streets

The London Road runs straight north-south down the right side of the map, after crossing South Bridge at the top. The other main road, branching off it to the west, is St. Leonard's Road, named for the extinct lazar house, which was hereabouts. St. Leonard's Road turns to the southwest to become the Towcester Road.

A main feature of the district is the Recreation Ground, known to us all as "the rec." The rec is bounded on the north by Delapre Crescent Road, at whose eastward end is that little crescent opposite the driveway to Delapré Abbey. At the south the rec is bounded by Queen Eleanor Road, which also goes right through from the Towcester Road to the London Road. The eastern boundry of the rec is Pleydell Road.

Opposite the rec, exiting my map to the west, is Rothersthorpe Road, leading out into the countryside to the village of Rothersthorpe.


The school

I attended the primary school in Far Cotton from 1950 to 1956, aged from 5 to 11. The large building on the northwest corner where the Towcester Road turns east to become St. Leonard's Road, was the Tivoli Cinema, with three or four small shops annexed at the north. The building just southwest of the Tivoli was a public convenience (i.e. toilet, men's and women's). The little street on the southwest side of the convenience was Alton Street. After turning west, it led to a cluster of dark buildings on the map. That is Far Cotton school.

To continue my route to the school, the first part of which I described on the Delapre page: I would walk the southern leg of Pleydell Road to the southeast corner of the rec, then go diagonally northwest across the rec to the far corner on the Towcester Road. Turning right and walking northeast along Towcester Road, I would pass St. Mary's church, with its handsome spire, on my left, a small branch library (where I first read E.C. Eliott's "Kemlo" books) opposite. Continuing past the Methodist chapel on the right, not quite to the corner, I would turn left into Alton Street.

North of the school was Main Road, with some small foundries and workshops on the other side, then the railway. The streets all around were red-brick row houses inhabited by working-class people — slums, really. Far Cotton was, in fact, considered a rough area by Northampton standards. The other (west) side of the Towcester Road was somewhat better; and as you went south to the rec and the streets to its west, things got more spacious. Nobody in Far Cotton was well-off; but there were gradations.


Other places

The top right corner of the map was very industrial and grimy. The road branching off the London Road to the east immediately south of South Bridge — it was South Bridge Road — led to a greyhound racing track.

On the other side of the London Road just opposite and a wee bit south was a pub and two or three small stores. One of these belonged to Old Bill the barber, where my father used to take me to get my hair cut. Old Bill heated his establishment with a kerosene stove. I have never since been able to smell kerosene without summoning up a recollection of Old Bill's poky shop, with its advertisements for tobacco, hair grease, and condoms. (The latter were also sold in pharmacies. The sales assistants in pharmacies were often women, though, so men preferred to buy their supplies from the barber. The barber's sly "Will there be anything else, Sir?" was a standing joke for decades in England, and perhaps still is.) When old enough to go to the barber without Dad, I preferred to patronize the slightly more upscale place next to the Tivoli.

The other eastbound road, meeting London Road opposite the St. Leonard's Road opening, was Ransome Road, lined with workshops, timber yards, and truck maintenance facilities. It led ultimately to the flats north of Delapré Abbey, on which the Battle of Northampton was fought during the Wars of the Roses.

Where the railroad track crossed the London Road there were big wooden gates, painted white, that were swung across the road when a train was due. You could cross the tracks by a footbridge on the west side of the road, though. For a small boy it was very exciting to stand on the top of this footbridge and look down at a train going underneath. (These were steam trains, so you got a face full of smoke, adding to the thrill.) The station just to the west was Bridge Street Station, Northampton's first railway station (1845). I caught a train there only once, to go to Leicester in 1963. The station closed soon after, was demolished in 1970, and I think the entire line is now extinct. It was a branch line. Northampton's main railroad station is off the map to the northwest.

Just along Rothersthorpe Road on the left (a third of the way up near the left edge of the map), the cluster of dark buildings is another school, Rothersthorpe Road Seconday Modern.

With the Tivoli Cinema, four churches, two schools (three, when Queen Eleanor School opened on the rec in 1952), and several pubs, Far Cotton was pretty self-contained. There were many shops: little corner shops in the back streets, and a whole row on the north side of St. Leonard's Road, including a post office near the London Road end. My favorite was Mr. Mark's (or Marks') sweet (=candy) shop at the western end of Euston Road, the north corner where it meets the Towcester Road. All my subsequent dental problems began there.


Tom Booth's memories

[Added September 2011 :  I received the following by email from Tom Booth, who came to the U.S.A. from England in 1957 and now lives in Golden, Colorado. Many thanks to Tom for this.]

When I was a kid — defined by me as until about 1940 — we lived in a two bedroom council house in Far Cotton, a working-class suburb/village of Northampton south of the River Nene from the rest of the town & popularly known as Chinatown by the worthies north of the river. My world was Far Cotton. Our house was rented from Northampton town council for about $2 per week on an estate of perhaps 400 such built just after WW1. My father was on & off out of work between 1933 & 1938 & we [Mum, Dad, my younger brother & I] lived on about $4 per week dole money from the government, which also covered the rent. When he worked — as a hand painter of luxury cars — he earned about $10 per week. Our once-a-week treat was the three of us walking over the bridge towards Northampton on Friday nights & meeting him as he came from work with his pay, stopping to pick up fish & chips for four, & walking back over the bridge home.

Far Cotton had grown up piecemeal over the centuries around a grand estate known as Delapre Abbey — originally a Catholic Abbey built by the Norman governor of Northampton 100 years or so after the 1066 Conquest. The Grande Dame of Far Cotton when I was a kid was Miss Bouverie who owned & lived in the Abbey surrounded by around 300 to 400 acres of meadows & woodlands. The Bouveries were almost certainly a family of Norman origin who bought the Abbey estate around 1700 or so. Delapre first passed into private hands in the time of Henry VIII as a result of his Reformation of the Catholic Church & seizure of its properties. The Bouveries owned property in London as well as Delapre & one of them was a governor in America in Colonial times. In 1940 Miss Bouverie moved from Delapre to another large country house she owned west of Northampton & Delapre was turned over to the army in its expansion needs during WW2. Miss Bouverie was an old lady by then & only made it back to Delapre briefly, to die there around 1944.

My only memory of Miss Bouverie was seeing her at a charity fete in the Abbey grounds once & a couple of times when she attended Far Cotton school functions. She served as a Justice of the Peace & Magistrate in Northampton Law Courts I believe in the 20's & 30's. "The Spinney" was the term used by we locals for the forest surrounding Delapre Abbey & which we kids used as our playground & the local poachers as their hunting ground for rabbits — at least when they managed to elude the Far Cotton police!

I did not realise it until long after of course but that world was the remains of the feudal world of Olde England, with more than a hint of the Middle Ages still about it & with remnants of the aristocracy still there looking after it. The Abbey & its surrounding land was sold to the Northampton Town Council around 1946/7 & so passed into public hands. The Abbey buildings themselves were allowed to deteriorate after they were in public hands until a few years ago a few caring people of Far Cotton themselves formed a group of volunteers to raise money & look after the Abbey buildings. The meadows have been turned into a public golf course & a large part of the woods taken to make automobile bypass roads around the town. The last few times I've been there the woods & woodland ponds appear as if, now owned by everyone, they are cherished & cared for by no one.

America is in many respects still a lot like England — a larger, newer version is all. We have also had our aristocracies — whether they built new industries like Samsonite's Jesse Shwayder, or family dynasties. I've learned … not all progress is progress. I became aware slowly that the world we inherited was a better preserved one than the one we will hand on to future generations. Above all I learned the first reaction to new ventures from politicians, new Tea Parties, new ideas to "improve" our future again should be suspicion, & "show me" the first comment!